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Protecting Your Privacy Online

— April 4, 2020

Take your online privacy seriously and make a few changes to current habits to safeguard your online presence.

The internet initially provided a way to access what seemed like unlimited amounts of information. Today, our online experience is a central part of our daily lives. We handle our banking, track our health, and share intimate parts of our lives with our social network.

Unfortunately, criminals seek to exploit our online activity by stealing data — and even our identities. At best, the privacy breach can create confusion among our social network and cause us stress. At worst, the theft can affect our finances and credit score. There are steps you can take to protect your personal information. Here are some common scams to look out for and how you can safeguard against them.

Share Less on Social Media

Social networks like Facebook and Instagram are great ways to stay in touch with friends and family and keep them updated on your life. But most people overshare their personal data. A hacker can mine your social media accounts for your email address, date of birth, place of birth, names of family members, and place of employment to use this data against you. 

Think about it — most security verification questions will ask you where you met your spouse, or your date of birth, or your pet’s name, or the name of the high school you attended. Don’t put this information on a silver platter for a hacker. Consider setting your accounts to private and be more selective of who you “friend” since not everyone on your friends’ list has good intentions. Review the information you’ve posted in your “about” sections and delete potentially sensitive data.

Limit Sharing Your Current Location

It’s tempting to post current photos and updates of your vacation as it unfolds for friends and family to see. But doing so alerts thieves that you’re not home, leaving your home or business exposed to robbery.

iPhone displaying social media apps; image by Kon Karampelas, via
iPhone displaying social media apps; image by Kon Karampelas, via

In other cases, a scammer could contact friends and loved ones in your social media list saying you’ve been hurt are in legal trouble where you’re vacationing and ask them to send them money to help you. Save your vacation photos and share them at a later date as a past memory. Turn off your GPS to avoid geotagging while you’re traveling. And think twice before checking in at a location away from home — others will be able to see those check-ins.

Be Wary of Private Information Requests from Companies You Know

Online fraudsters use social engineering to gain your trust and scam you out of your personal data. Known as phishing, the most common form starts with an email. Scammers impersonate a trusted company and send you an official-looking email asking you to verify your account by providing personal information such as logins, passwords, bank account numbers, home address, or your Social Security number.

Phishing is widespread — major companies, including PayPal, Chase Bank, and even the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), warn consumers to watch out for this scam. To minimize the risk, look for the following red flags:

  • Small typos or grammatical errors in the email.
  • A link to login to your account that is similar to the company address.
  • A request for your private financial information, logins, and passwords.

When in doubt, contact the company directly and do not click on any links or download any attachments. And, report the scam to the company so they can warn others. 

Avoid Using Public Computers to Check In

Many travelers access the free computers or wifi available at the airport or hotel’s business room to check their emails or do some online banking. This habit is a dangerous one. If the computer is set to remember the data you enter and autofill it next time, all a thief needs to do is look at the browser history to view and navigate to the pages you visited and let the autofill feature log them into your account. Free wifi is often unsecured wifi, and this gives malicious actors easy access to your hardware.

To minimize risk and take control of your personal data, it’s best to avoid public computers, free wifi hotspots, and using your colleagues’ computers at work as well. If you must use one, go into the settings and disable autofill. Make sure you uncheck the “Remember me next time” box of the website you’re logging into. When you’re done, log out, delete browsing data and cookies before you go.

Use Software to Protect Your Online Privacy

Hackers and online scammers are always coming up with new ways to capitalize on vulnerabilities. Software can protect you against the problem. Some types of software that could protect your information from misuse include:

  • Antivirus software to remove viruses that hackers use to control your computer remotely.
  • Privacy-enhanced browsers such as Firefox (or adjust your privacy settings on your current browser or use private browsing mode when online).
  • Spyware and malware removal tools to monitor for and remove dangerous software that monitors your online activity and records your keystrokes.
  • A Virtual Private Network (VPN) to surf the web anonymously.

The paradox is that many of the software available can be just as malicious. Always do your research before you download a security tool and read reviews about the product. Stick with well-known companies such as Norton, Symantec, Bitdefender, and Kaspersky.

Safeguard Your Online Persona

Take your online privacy seriously and make a few changes to current habits to safeguard your online presence. Keep informed about online privacy protections and current scams to adapt your online usage. Doing so will protect you from personal data breaches.

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